It’s African American History Month, and, here at LifeBrite Laboratories, we’re looking back and paying tribute to some of the many Black scientists and doctors whose work made medical laboratories possible. Their insights, innovations, and advances equip LifeBrite Labs to empower physicians with the analysis they need, so they can give their patients the very best in personalized care.
There are countless people deserving of such credit, and we can’t hope to cover even a fraction of the most consequential contributors. We’re grateful for them all. Flipping through the pages of scientific and medical history, we were drawn to the stories of these three pioneers whose discoveries we still use at LifeBrite today.
Dr. Marie Maynard Daly
Born in 1921, Dr. Marie Maynard Daly was the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry, from Columbia University in 1947.
According to the book Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century, Daly’s father had also wanted to study chemistry and received a scholarship to study at Cornell University. However, unable to afford rent and board, he had to drop out during his first year.
Daly would later say that her father’s earlier ambitions and Paul de Kruif’s book, The Microbe Hunters — which told the stories of the first scientists to study microbes — were both influential in her decision to study biochemistry.
She wrote her dissertation at Columbia based on original research into the role of pancreatic amylase in digestion. After completing her doctoral studies, she went on to teach biochemistry and medicine at Howard University, Columbia University, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
With funding from the American Cancer Society, Daly became an early, leading researcher in the new science of cell nucleus function and DNA. In James Watson’s Nobel Prize lecture, speaking about his discovery (with Francis Crick) of DNA, Watson cited one of Daly’s papers as having contributed to his work.
Daly later conducted groundbreaking research into the role of cholesterol in clogged arteries and heart attacks, the effect of sugar on heart health, and the impact of smoking on lung health. Late in her career, she did important work in the uptake of creatine in muscles.
Not a day — not an hour — goes by at LifeBrite Labs without us relying on some of Dr. Daly’s insights into metabolism, cell nucleus function, DNA, cholesterol, blood sugar, cancer, or creatine.
Dr. William Augustus Hinton
Born in 1883, Dr. William Augustus Hinton was a bacteriologist, pathologist, and the first Black professor at Harvard University. According to a profile by Harvard Medical School, Hinton wanted to specialize in surgery, but Boston-area hospitals wouldn’t hire him, because of his race. So he turned his attention to laboratory work instead.
For three years, Hinton volunteered part-time in the Department of Pathology of Massachusetts General Hospital, performing autopsies on all deceased patients suspected of having syphilis. This work would later lead to him developing a highly reliable test for syphilis, in 1927. The “Hinton test” became the medical standard, adopted by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1934, and, with two refinements by Hinton, remained so until about 1957 when the rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test supplanted it.
Hinton went on to work at the Wasserman Laboratory, which was then housed at Harvard Medical School and served as the Massachusetts State Laboratory for communicable diseases. The laboratory was later transferred to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and Hinton became the Chief of the Wasserman Laboratory, holding that position for the next 38 years. He also authored the first medical text book by a Black American, and he helped break down barriers to women entering laboratory professions.
Dr. Hinston’s advances and advocacies improved our field and opened opportunities for women and people of color to enter this profession. At LifeBrite Laboratories, we’re living his legacy.
Dr. Harold Amos
Born in 1918, Dr. Harold Amos was a microbiologist and, for 50 years, professor at Harvard Medical School, where he became the first Black chair of an academic department. A biography of Louis Pasteur that he read in the 4th grade inspired his interest in medical science. (He later admitted that Pasteur’s use of goats as test subjects also played a role, because he disliked the family goat.) He would later study at the Pasteur Institute on a Fulbright Fellowship.
At Harvard, he studied in and would later chair the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, which was later named the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. He was a generalist who worked across many fields including virology, microbiology, and genetics, and he did important early work on E. Coli.
Amos made critical discoveries in many areas of animal cell functions, including enzyme inductions, glucose starvation, and RNA metabolism. He is perhaps best known for his work in “the use of bacterial RNA to synthesize biologic materials such as insulin.”
In 2004, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation renamed the Minority Medical Faculty Development Program as the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program, in honor of Dr. Amos’ efforts to open doors for people of color seeking medical science careers.
At LifeBrite Laboratories, we rely every day on Amos’ many contributions to our understanding of RNA metabolism, virology, and microbiology. And many of us owe our careers to the opportunities he helped make possible.
Who Else Should We Be Thanking?
There are so many more Black scientists who deserve our gratitude too. Tell us the story of one who made a difference for you.